Lismore, 13 August 1883 - John Fraser Sim

JOHN FRASER SIM, Solicitor and Land Agent, Oban (41)—examined.

37266. The Chairman.
—For what estates are you land agent ?
—The two estates in Lismore which I represent are first, that belonging to the Rev. Mr Fell of Carlisle; and second, that belonging to Major Campbell of Balliveolan.

37267. Do you desire to make a statement?
—I should like if you allow me. I wish to mention the fact that the people of Lismore are a people by themselves. On Mr Fell's property I draw rents from fifty-nine people, and of these fifty-seven have been born and bred in the island. I should like to mention that fact, because it explains a peculiarity in Lismore which I think hardly finds another example in any portion of the Highlands. If you take the Balliveolan property, where there are twelve tenants, only one of these has been introduced as a stranger. All the rest are aborigines of the place; and this explains to a great extent what we have heard to-day of the long tenure the people have had of the land, notwithstanding the fact that there are practically no leases in the island, with the exception of those of the larger holdings. They have their own habits, customs, and sympathies ; they are clannish when they get amongst strangers; they fight a good deal amongst themselves; they have their own patron saint; and altogether the island is an island by itself. I wish to say something in confirmation of this. It has been mentioned that a petition was sent by the Port Ramsay tenants, with the view of inducing the proprietor to reduce their rents. I should like to read the reply which Mr Fell sent to me; for the petition was not presented to me at the rent collection, but was sent direct to Mr Fell at Carlisle. He says
—' I send you a letter that I have received from the Port Ramsay crofters, on which I shall be glad to have your remarks. If the crofters are too highly rented, I am willing to have their crofts revalued. But it seems to me that they have combined to put pressure upon me, being apparently encouraged by the sympathy shown to the Skye crofters, whose circumstances and tenure are quite distinct from the crofters in Lismore. I shall distinctly resist any attempt to coerce me. I think the crofter system a bad one. Unless every crofter has another trade or occupation, a crofter living on his croft has no right to expect anything but the most abject penury. His condition is one of idleness and, of necessity, poverty. He does not even till his own ground, but, as I see from the petition, he pays some one else. The crofters' system should gradually be changed into small farms.' In a further letter he desires me specifically to mention to those crofters his wish that the crofts should be revalued. The words which he uses are—Ask the crofters if they want a revaluation of their crofts according to what is paid elsewhere.'That is really the gist of the further letter. I took occasion to get the crofters together, and read a petition and Mr Fell's letter, and they had not a word to say. I mention this fact about Port Ramsay in particular, that those who live there are not crofters in the ordinary sense. Five of them own vessels. One of them carries 65 tons; another 70; another 30 ; and two others 20. There is a boat-builder there, where many of the boats required in the island and elsewhere are built. There is a shopkeeper, a retired farmer, a shoemaker, and four labourers only amongst the number, and one widow woman. These men are enterprising ; they go elsewhere. Oban would not be what it is to-day were if not for the Lismore people who went there. And there is in this meeting one who has benefited himself and his country by leaving the island. In 1853 the rental of the island, on Mr Fell's estate—and I wish these figures to be borne in mind—was £1315, 15s. 6d.; to-day it is £1224, Is. Mr Fell, the present proprietor, succeeded to the property. The £1224 is divided thus : we have five occupants of agricultural land under £ 5 ; eleven between £5 and £ 10; eight between £ 10 and £30; four between £30 and £ 50; one between £ 5 0 and £100; two between £100 and £200; and one at £200. And in connection with that, I might mention that I have in my possession leases adjusted between proprietor and tenant in 1863 which have not yet been signed. They have been lying twenty years signed by the proprietor, but not by the tenants. If we analyse this, we find the large farms extend to 1450 acres, and give a gross rent of £954, or 13s. 3d. per acre. If we take the detached crofts, excluding Port Ramsay, we find that of these, eight in number, there are 253 acres giving a rental of £161,13s., equivalent to 13a per acre; so that the crofters over the whole property, excluding Port Ramsay, are 3d. per acre cheaper than the larger tenants,

37268. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Where do you draw the line between crofters and large tenants ?
—£30. In Port Ramsay itself, where there are 16 crofters, the area altogether is 114 acres. There are really 3½ acres of ground which each crofter has got to himself. There are 65 acres of common, and each crofter has got a house, slated, containing three rooms on the ground floor and a loft overhead, a cow's grazing, this croft for potatoes, and the right to cut sea-ware, and for that they have to pay an average rent of £6, 6s. 6d. If we had them in Oban we should charge them double straight off. The rent of Port Ramsay in 1853 was £ 83; the rent to-day is £89, 6s. 6d; and in the interval we have spent upon Port Ramsay alone in improvements upon those crofts and the houses connected with them, £437, 11s . 9d.; so that after debiting them with £437 of extra capital we have an increase in return of about £6. It was made out to-day that a large number of the houses were erected by the original settlers there. That I take to be the fact. I hold in my hands the rental of the property now Mr Fell's, which was then Sir John Campbell's, signed W. Hastie, who was ground officer. He puts this footnote to it, —' The leases of the Port Ramsay houses being out, the houses now falling to Sir John must be looked into; ' in other words, it was time to make an increase in the rent. But the rent of £83 was continued till 1853, and now after all this expenditure of £400 odds it only amounts to £89, 6s. 6d. another fact which I think a helpful one in connection with the property is this. In 1852, when Mr Fell's predecessor bought the property from Sir John Campbell's trustees, they bought along with the property the arrears of rent amounting to £588, 3s. At November last, when I made up my account, the total arrears only amounted to £51, 5s. 3d., and the whole of this arrear has been paid up honestly and faithfully. Port Ramsay is the sea-port of this island. It has been properly described by Hugh Carmichael who was forward here to-day, and he gave a truthful account of how the thing stood; only he omitted to say that Mr Fell not merely collects the rents, but keeps the whole houses in repair. He laid out £100 in draining six acres of ground intended to be little patches of vegetable ground —kail-yards —for them, and this now is lying part of the common waste. I beg leave to mention one of these things which it is desirable now to mention. Mr Fell writes me a letter that their troubles have been laid before him. He says— Let the tenants know that I will share their troubles with them. You can at any rate give them back'—I shan't state the amount—'per cent, off this half year, and the future must speak for itself. I cannot form the opinion of what the tenants are able to pay, and I wish you, bearing in mind my interests, to say whether this percentage

37269. The Chairman.
—I have no objection to hear the percentage?
—I do not wish to mention it, because I did not act upon it.

37270. From what I see it is a handsome percentage, but I do not see that the rest of the audience should not profit by it ?
—I shall tell you. Is there any material difference in the circumstances on different farms, or is one equal to another in the matter of prosperity ? In some cases I gave the people off 50 per cent, in others only 10. I used my own discretion. I wish to point out that Mr Fell makes the interest of the tenants his own. I think I might mention also that since Mr Fell became the proprietor of this estate in 1861, he has spent £2921, 2s. 4d. on improvements upon the property. That represents buildings which of themselves have come to a very large sum. I might take leave to mention that, because I wish to mention it again in connection with the houses. Houses on large farms—and I adopt the standard of the Commission in distinguishing between large and small farms —£1660, 3s. 6d.; houses on crofts, £487, 9s.; together, £2921, 2s. As to Connell Connel, who was the first witness here to-day, he says he complained regularly almost at every rent collection. It was news to me. I have collected his rent many times, and although he often said times were hard, he never said that he wanted anything back. He said he could not mention his past rent; I think I can mention it. In 1852 his father's rent was, in money, £14. He also supplied 80 eggs, 4 fowls, 4 chickens, one pint of seal oil, 4 hanks of lint, 5s. for wrack, Is. 3d. per side, 5 bolls of meal, making £5, 14s. 11d . ; total, £19, 14s. 11d.

37271. In what year was that?
—1852; and his rent to-day is £18, 10s.; so that his rent is lower to-day by £ 1 , 4s. 11d . than in those days. He says there have been no improvements. I quite believe Connel persuades himself that is so; but we put a capital march fence along his farm separating his lands from the feus. We have also given him materials for roofing his house, and that has been done regularly. He described his ground as twenty acres. He really has 38.061 acres according to the Ordnance Survey, and for that he pays £18, 10s., so that he has it at about 10s. an acre. I wish to refer to this matter of the buildings. Mr Fell is willing to spend money in buildings at 5 per cent., which is not out of the way. Again, on the other hand, the tenant has means of executing the work at a much cheaper rate than Mr Fell, the proprietor, can do. The tenant comes and says—' No, I shall not pay one half, but I shall do the mason work for you.' If he does, we pay the carpenter, joiner, slater, plasterer, and plumber, and build the house for him. That we consider a fair arrangement; it has wrought well; and I could point to many instances where it has wrought well. In the case of thatched houses we invariably give wood. There is a vessel loaded lying at Mr M'Intyre'splace ready to be used by tenants. As to deficiencies upon houses, I think I can do no better than show you the bill of comprisement of Park. The houses there were erected fifteen years ago, and under such an arrangement as I speak of. There were two slated houses in it. At the tenant's entry one of these was valued at £ 7 ; it is now valued at £6, 10s., bringing out a deficiency of 10s., which we look upon as a fair sum to be paid by the tenant for putting it into the condition in which it was received. The other one is much larger. It was £14 when the tenant entered; it is now £11, 10s., making a difference of £3, 10s. Then in regard to the fences, drains, and things of that sort, we look upon the tenant as responsible to give them up in fair order. Only decay in buildings or farm improvements we look upon as a thing to be provided for by the tenant and not by the proprietor, and they are never charged anything; but in that particular case I see there is £12 debited in respect of those things along with the houses. Another matter, and you have caught me on the hip to-day, because I was not prepared for it. I thought I should be able to say something in regard to Dugald Carmichael, Balmaillachean, who presented himself as a witness. In order to show how my relations stand with him, I think it is as well I should read straight off a letter which I hold in my hands from his mother, and which really gives the reason why things are as they are.

37272. The Chairman.
—Will you kindly allow me to look at the letter ? (reads). I think, Mr Sim, that a letter of this sort should not be read aloud. It is sufficient for us to know that unfortunately Mr Carmichael's relatives at that time had reason to complain of him; but I do not think it would be desirable that matters between such near relatives should be publicly alluded to or read aloud ?
—I beg leave to mention that the foundation of this difficulty with Mrs Carmichael, who really took up her husband's lease of the farm, was this. Her husband was a pushing energetic man. He had his faults, but he had his good qualities. In framing his will he cut off the eldest son with £20. This struck me as odd. The next phase of the matter was this. A lime work was part of the subject let. It was sublet by the father before his death to another man. As soon as the father died, the family wanted to get it back again. They got the lime work back again, and from that time to this they have not wrought it, and in consequence some of the complainers from Port Ramsay have had to go much longer for lime that had this lime work been in operation. The consequence was a family disagreement, and Mr Fell wrote to me, and said, ' I have written to Mrs Carmichael telling her she is legally in a position to carry out her late husband's will, and that I cannot allow things to go on with two masters and little labour, and that if I must interfere I must give her notice, which she will regret.' This went on from bad to worse until in January I invited Mr Fell to come down here. He came, went into the whole matter, found this son was causing all the trouble and refused to leave; and the only result was that Mr Fell, in protection of his own interests, had to get rid of her altogether. But Mr Fell wrote me again to say that if he had a small place he would let her have it. He said—' If I could have put Mrs Carmichael and her younger son in a smaller farm I would gladly do so, but I have no such place. Mr Alexander Buchanan, another delegate, mentioned that when tenants had to remove, as he had from his place in Balliveolan, they had to leave everything behind them, and get no compensation for houses and fences. I looked into odd papers I had, and I saw that in 1859 he and his brother were in arrears £38, and the whole of that sum was wrought out by the proprietor and tenant sharing between them the cost of the march fence which was put up by the tenants, one half being credited to them in rent.

37273. Professor Mackinnon.
— Do you adduce that as an instance of compensation?
—Yes. In my recollection we have only ejected one man on the whole of Mr Fell's property. This man I hoped to see here to-day. We turned him out of a little cottage that we erected at the schoolhouse of Achahoran. He erected the cottage at his own cost, and fixed his price in quitting it—£4—and he took it and was well content with it. One other matter, in which I feel personally very sore, is this. Dugald Buchanan, Balnagowan, brings a reflection upon my predecessor, as reputable a gentleman as ever stood in Lismore. There is a charge against him of making away with this man's means—that he never accounted for those monies.

37274. The Chairman.
—He meant that no regular settlement had ever been come to between the landlord and the outgoing tenant ?
—That is so, but the inference I took from it was that Mr Gregorson had declined to account, and had kept some of the man's money in his pocket.

37275-6. I did not understand that?

37277. Professor Mackinnon.
—He said there was over £66, and there was only £26 of arrears, and that he was kept backward and forward between this and Oban a length of time, and he never got an accounting ?
—Mr Gregorson died ten years ago, and we advertised for all claims against him, and we never heard of this; and I think it unfortunate that a Lismore man should bring this charge against a man who lies in an honoured grave.

37278. The Chairman.
—We never understood there was any charge of personal dishonesty against the factor; I understand there had not been a proper settlement of the account current between the proprietor and tenant ?
—I am glad it is so.

37279. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—I did not understand the case of compensation of Alexander Buchanan ?
—He and his brother were together owing £38 of rent which they could not pay. In order to help them the proprietor said—' I shall carry out work upon your farm, and you will contract with me to do it ; ' and those men built this wall between them and somebody else. The one-half of the contract price was placed to their credit in rent, and the other half they got to themselves.

37280. In cash?
—No, by no means. We follow the principle that what is good for a farm is only good if it pays its proportion. They bore half of the expense, and the whole work was done by themselves.

37281. And was it stated to-day that they had done the whole work themselves?
—He made it a grievance that they went out and left houses, fences, and everything.

37282. How long after the march fence was put up ?
—Hie brother is there still. He said it was only a family disagreement that turned him out.

37283. Professor Mackinnon.
—You told us the rent in 1852 and the present rent of the estate, would you be able to give the rent, in 1852, of the tenants under £30?
—The rent of those under £30, in 1853, was £380, 19s. 7d.

37284. What is the rent just now?
—£250, 19s. 6d.

37285. Does the rent in 1852 include those eggs and hens and so on?
—It does.

37286. It is the valued rent?
—Yes, there was a price put upon it.

37287. Are you able to say that the area of the crofts in 1853 that paid £300 odds was exactly the same as the area now?
—It is different. Crofts have been add 3d to larger holdings, and sometimes two small holdings have been placed together to make a comfortable croft, the result being that while in 1853 we had tenants of £ 30 occupying ground to the extent of 578 acres, we have only got 367 acres tenanted by people of the same description now.

37288. Would you be able to say whether the crofts under £ 30 of rent have increased or diminished in value since 1853—those that were crofts in 1853 and the crofts now ; what is the difference between now and then?
—I have the material here, but I could not tell you straight off.

37289. You said there was a reduction over the whole estate since 1863 ?
—That has been principally in the large farms.

37290. Now there is no large farmer here to-day complaining of increase of rent, but small crofters were. I understood you wished to meet that by saying there was a reduction of rent over the whole estate ?
—No; I meant to say that at Port Ramsay, where the only increase of rent has been, we have laid out £400, of which only a portion is charged in the shape of interest. But the large tenants have got their rents reduced
in this way. The tenant says —'I am not content with those thatched buildings, and I am willing to share the expense of making something better; the proprietor says —'I am happy to meet you' —and the rent was charged at a slightly lower figure than we would get if there were no buildings on the property.

37291. Do you consider those £30 holdings and under are relatively higher or lower rented than those above them ?
—Lower to the extent of 3d. per acre ; and looking to the quality of the land and comparing it with that occupied by the larger tenants, I am satisfied the crofters have equally good, and in most cases better land.

37292. Your judgment then as a valuator of land is different from that of your predecessor who spoke here just now?
—I have facts to a certain extent to go upon. I think the question was put to him with reference to Port Ramsay.

37293. I understood the question to refer to the whole island—were the smaller crofts or the bigger farms higher rented, and he said if anything the crofts were higher rented ?
—I challenge that statement.

37294. Was that the statement, Mr M'Intyre ?
—[Mr M'lntyre]. It was of the Duke of Argyll's estate I was speaking I think.

37295. (To Witness).
—You think the crofts are lower rented than the large farms ?
— Witness. The difference is so slight that I would not like to say; but I think, looking to the quality of the ground and comparing the places, you will find the difference to be very trilling indeed.

37296. Would you be able to tell us whether there are many without land at all upon Mr Fell's estate ?
—A very considerable number.

37297. How many ?
—Twenty-one occupants of houses who have got no land except gardens connected with them; and estimating a number of paupers, and those who do not pay rent there, there might be another dozen. There might be at any rate thirty-five families on Mr Fell's estate without land.

37298. Upon whose lands are those,—upon the big farms or the crofts?
—They are dotted all over; some in Port Ramsay and others right over the whole place, principally along the public roads. In most places they pay 5s. and get it back again. We merely insist upon payment in order to satisfy them that they are sitting there and under obligation to the proprietor.

37299. Are you able to tell me whether there are more dotted among John Fraser the small tenants or larger farms ?
—The larger-farms principally. Where they are in centres they are upon the larger farms. We have got upon
one farm alone six of them all sitting together.

37300. Are they kept from trespassing upon the farm?
—I have no complaint as to that; I fancy they are allowed to move about pretty much.

37301. You heard the complaint of the crofters about want of peat, and that this was virtually raising the rent?
—That must be taken with a certain amount of caution. There was about fifteen acres of peat in the land, and this was all wrought out. The last quantities of peat taken were soft, fibrous peat, which had no good quality as fuel. That has disappeared. But if you take into account that a man has to leave his home three miles off and dig peat, and turn them to dry, and then take them three miles home, I should think he is cheaper with coals.

37302. But don't you know that the man said he actually did walk the three miles and dry and carry the peats without difficulty?
—He thought so, but I don't think he would take them now.

37303. At all events he won't get them?
—They are not to be had.

37304. With respect to that man about whom you spoke who was evicted eighteen years ago, have you got the books of your estate during that time?
—I must have them. They will be in Oban. I will look into the matter if you wish.

37305. Can you say whether an account was ever rendered ?
—I cannot say.

37306. As far as I understood it, there was no personal debt against Mr Gregorson, but that the factor never rendered him an account, and he was surprised when the proceeds of the sale were £6G and the debt £26—would all the rest be expenses ?
—Oh, no.

37307. He never got an account ?

37308. But you don't know whether it was true ?
—I don't think Mr Gregorson could have slept in his bed if he had done the man injustice.

37309. Do you think the man went to Oban often about it?

37310. Don't you think you should suspend your opinion until you look into it ?
—Perhaps so.

37311. There are two natives of the island members of the School Board ?

37312. And they are well satisfied with that ?
—Yes, There has always been a fight to have two members from Lismore.

37313. The fight was territorial and not ecclesiastical?

37314. And they have those representatives now?
—Yes. There was another complaint made by Duncan Carmichael in respect of another injustice this year in putting out a widow because she was a widow. This was a joint tenancy—John and Hugh M'Gregor, which is a common thing—two brothers associated together, and yet, although their names appear together in the rent book, they actually paid their rents separately, getting only the one receipt for the cumulo sum. In this case the man died; his affairs were not in a good way; and if I were to show you the balance after the accounting that this widow with seven children had at her disposal you would see that it was not sufficient to meet the rent of £31, 10s. That was one reason.

37315. You mean this sum represents the whole amount at her credit?
—That is so, for herself and seven children.

37316. What ages were the children?
—One twenty-one, and they ran down to nothing.

37317. But there was a son of twenty-one ?

37318. As you have alluded to the question of widows, I should like if you would state what the custom of the estate is when a man paying rent dies leaving a widow. If that widow has sons or children or near relatives able to assist her and to work the farm, what is the custom of the estate—renew her in the tenancy ?
—That is so. Take an instance. A man was drowned coming from Sheep Island, and his wife was left with a young family. Mr Fell put her into the place of her husband, and gave her a present of the half year's rent; and there she is to-day. Something would have been done in the case of the people complaining if the circumstances had been otherwise than they are. I gave a brother of Carmichael a piece of ground, and he and his mother are living in it, in the hope that this lad would go away, but he has not. The money is the mother's, although the lease is in the name of her son.

37319. There are other cases of widows holding tenancies on the estate ?
—These are the only two that occur to me at the moment.

37320. And you referred those matters to Mr Fell for his personal decision ?
—Yes. When he comes down I take the opportunity of going into these matters with him.

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